How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors destroyed the lives of
seven innocent North Carolinians โ€“ and have yet to admit they were wrong

โ€œAnd When Did You Last See Your Father?โ€ by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family

โ€œAnd When Did You Last See Your Father?โ€ by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family


Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


Todayโ€™s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Remember Dungeons & Dragons โ€“ and โ€˜satanic ritual abuseโ€™?

160909dungeonSept. 9, 2016

โ€œStrange what we worry about when it comes to our children. A great deal of the culture-war politics of the 1980s consisted of theatrical wailing about threats to our children that were either entirely made up or wildly exaggerated: The boys in โ€˜Stranger Thingsโ€™ย love to play Dungeons & Dragons, and, in a rare oversight, the series does not even touch on the minor cultural panic surrounding that game in places such as small-town Indiana, where D&D’s supernatural elements sparked terrified tales of occult experimentation.

โ€œIt’s not for nothing that this came around the same time as the Salem-style mass hysteria over โ€˜Satanic ritual abuseโ€™ at the nation’s child-care centers, with fanciful worries about Luciferian cults obscuring the more straightforward anxiety associated with abandoning one’s children to child-care facilities. Yesterday’s Satanic cultists and Alar [a controversial apple growth inhibitor]ย are today’s online predators and brain-scrambling vaccinations….โ€

โ€“ From โ€œFamiliar Things: The TV series โ€˜Stranger Thingsโ€™ portrays family breakdown yesterday and todayโ€ by Kevin D. Williamson in National Review (Aug. 29)

…and clowns?


It’s not just politics that make strange bedfellows

140527WilliamsJune 23, 2014

โ€œThe emphasis has got to be on the crime. Once you start using labels like satanic, sadistic or ritualistic, then youโ€™re immediately raising a red flag…. Law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, mental health professionals and especially the general public begin to back off, because itโ€™s so hard to believe these things happen…. We emphasized rape, sex offense, indecent liberties, crimes against nature…Those were the crimes that Bob Kelly was convicted of, those are what the jury heard evidence of….

โ€œWe let the defense attorneys bring out the sadistic and ritualistic….โ€

โ€“ From District Attorney H. P. Williams Jr.โ€™s address to โ€œFrom Heartbreak Through Healing: Facing the Reality of Sexual and Ritual Abuse of Children,โ€ the first national convention ofย Believe the Childrenย (April 2-4, 1993, in Arlington Heights, Ill.)

I transcribed Williams’ cautionary prosecutorial advice from audiotapes, so I can only imagine the scene on the speakers’ dais he shared with not only one of the Little Rascals mothers, but also Laura Buchanan, author of โ€œSatan’s Child: A Survivor’s Story That Can Help Others Heal from Cultic Ritual Abuse.โ€

What must have Williams been thinking as Buchanan earnestly recalled that:

โ€œWe stood poised with knives in an incomprehensible world where children killed children….ย  Permitted to live until age four (my sister) was sacrificed by my parents…. My final programming, as a teenager, occurred on an autopsy table in the coronerโ€™s office. A surgical procedure was staged and through a small incision in my scalp I was told that a surveillance device would be inserted into my brain. The supposed implant would be used at national headquarters to continuously monitor my thoughts. For decades the programming was extremely effective. Until the age of 44, I had no idea that my parents practiced satanism….โ€

With Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson locked away, and the overturning of their convictions still two years away, DA Williams was riding high. But surely he must have experienced the slightest frisson of doubt when he saw Buchananโ€™s patent insanity being swallowed whole by the same audience that so enthusiastically applauded his case against the Edenton Seven.

Forensic evaluator or therapist? A distinction not made

120323WyattMarch 23, 2012

โ€œA given professional must undertake either a forensic examination or therapy, not both, with any given child.

โ€œThe roles of forensic evaluator and ongoing therapist are different. The forensic evaluator must not become an advocate for the child, a role often difficult to avoid when one is an ongoing therapist.

โ€œFor this reason the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines for Psychological Evaluations in Child Protection Matters (1999) holds, โ€˜Psychologists generally do not conduct psychological evaluations in child protection matters in which they serve in a therapeutic role for the child or the immediate family or have had other involvement that may compromise
their objectivity.โ€™ โ€

โ€“ From โ€œA Behavior Analytic Look at Contemporary Issues in the Assessment of Child
Sexual Abuseโ€ by W. Joseph Wyatt in The Behavior Analyst Today (March 22, 2007)

By serving enthusiastically as agents of the prosecution, Betty Robertson, Judy Abbott, Susan Childers and Michele Zimmerman not only ignored that crucial ethical distinction, but also fostered psychological havoc where there had been none.

For Little Rascals DA, mum was always the word

March 29, 2013

โ€œELIZABETH CITY โ€“ Attorneys for the seven defendants in the Edenton child abuse case want to know what techniques were used to elicit accusations from the children…. Prosecutors donโ€™t want to tell them….

โ€œ(District Attorney H.P.) Williams would not address a reporterโ€™s questions about how the Edenton investigation was conducted….

โ€œMr. Williams declined to say how the Edenton investigation grew from complaints by three families to its current size. He declined to say how they communicated with parents or whether a letter was sent out.

โ€œHe would not discuss who had interviewed the children or what interview techniques had been used….โ€

โ€“ From โ€œProsecutors wonโ€™t discuss techniquesโ€ in theย Raleigh News & Observer (Feb. 25, 1990)

Two decades later Williams, though no longer district attorney, was still โ€œnot in a position to talk about it.โ€

Coincidentally โ€“ or not โ€“ the Little Rascals story shared Page 2C with one noting that โ€œSocial workers are trying to determine why reported cases of child abuse and neglect in North Carolina jumped 27 percent in 1989, while cases nationally are expected to rise only 3 percent or 4 percent….โ€

A consultant with the state Division of Social Services observed that โ€œAny time you get a radical increase in the number of complaints, youโ€™re probably getting a number of complaints of questionable validity…..Folks who make those reports need to use some common sense.โ€

Retraction won’t kill you, journal editors

June 7, 2013

โ€œOne hundred and fifty-five years after it snubbed Dr. John Snow in his obituary, The Lancet is taking it back.

โ€œThe British medical journal noted that its original obituary โ€“ published June 26, 1858 โ€“ failed to mention his “remarkable achievements” in epidemiology, especially his research on the way cholera is spread….

โ€œIt’s not the first time a publication has issued a correction for work published decades ago. The New York Times corrected a 26-year-old error about horse-drawn carriages in Central Park in 2011, and once retracted a 1920 editorial that claimed space travel was impossible.โ€

โ€“ From โ€œTheย Lancet Correctsย Obituary For John Snow Published 155 Years Agoโ€ย in the Huffington Post (April 12)

If The Lancet and The New York Times can reach back in their archives to right the record, why canโ€™tย Journal of Child and Youth Care,ย Child Abuse & Neglectย andย Nursing Research?

McCrory fosters NCโ€™s own costly moral panic

Ben R. Williams

Ben R. Williams

May 29, 2016

โ€œItโ€™s easy to whip people into a frenzy over a moral panic (such as ‘satanic ritual abuseโ€™ in the 1980s). All you do is tell people thereโ€™s a vast segment of humanity that wants to prey on their children. You tell them that these predatory people arenโ€™t like us โ€“ theyโ€™re outsiders with different values. And you make sure that the talking heads on TV keep the story alive.

โ€œIs it possible that a moral panic could happen today?

โ€œJust ask Gov. Pat McCrory,ย who has cost his state millions of dollars defending a law that allegedly protects North Carolina childrenย from transgender bathroom-goers โ€“ a statewide crisis that suddenly popped into existence during an election year, conveniently enough.

โ€œMoral panics still exist, and theyโ€™re still absurd. The only difference is, theyโ€™re a lot more expensive than they were back in the โ€™80s.โ€

โ€“ From โ€œHistory warns us to beware of ‘moral panic’ โ€ย by Ben R. Williams in the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin (May 27)


Tortured by timidity in Texas

Dan, left, and Fran Keller

Dan, left, and Fran Keller

March 13, 2016

โ€œFran and Dan Keller have been released from a Texas prison after 21 years, yet still have little freedom of movement or circumstance, or even quality of life. Their 1992 conviction on multiple counts of โ€˜sexual assault of a minorโ€™ โ€“ in the now notorious Fran’s Day Care case โ€“ has effectively been overturned by a 2015 Court of Criminal Appeals ruling โ€˜granting reliefโ€™ to the Kellers on a single question of retracted medical testimony. But the ruling was not accompanied by actual exoneration from the allegedly heinous crimes.

โ€œOnly a single appeals court judge โ€“ Cheryl Johnson โ€“ was willing to admit no crime had in fact occurred. โ€˜This was a witch hunt from the beginning,โ€™ wrote Johnson, in her opinion concurring with the opaque ruling of the full court. Johnson would have granted relief on all the Kellers’ claims, and would have acknowledged that the entire prosecution had been an egregious folly.

โ€œThe limited ruling, while welcome in itself, left the Kellers in a legal limbo โ€“ permanently accused but not cleared…. required to somehow further demonstrate their innocence โ€“ of crimes that never happened….โ€

โ€“ From โ€œLearning From Our Mistakesโ€ย by Michael King in the Austin Chronicle (March 11) (cached)

So who thwarts the hapless Kellers? Yes, yet another prosecutor who sets the bar for exoneration stratospherically high. Although District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg (hereโ€™s why her name rings a bell) supported their release,ย she now finds herself unable to โ€œfind a path to innocenceโ€ without the deal-sealing exculpation of DNA evidence. Those darn imaginary criminals sure do clean up after themselves….


Mondale Act set up bonanza for therapists

111105LawrenceAug. 1, 2012

โ€œCongressโ€™s well-intentioned but misguided Mondale Act (the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, CAPTA), signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1974, provided impetus to prosecute alleged crimes against children.

โ€œFirst, it provided immunity to reporters of abuse, thereby unleashing an unlimited supply of unsubstantiated charges.

โ€œSecond, it provided funds to permit so-called victims to receive state-financed therapy immediately, even prior to any adjudication.

โ€œThus, the victims in Edenton received extensive counseling, at government expense, for โ€˜abuseโ€™ that never occurred. Four โ€˜sex therapistsโ€™ got all that business and received many thousands of dollars in reimbursement. They had no motivation to suppose those charges might be bogus.โ€

โ€“ย From “Sexual Liberation: The Scandal of Christendom” by Raymond J. Lawrence (2007)

What made Mark Everson an expert witness?

120702Everson1July 2, 2012

Perhaps the prosecutionโ€™s most influential expert witness during the 1992 trial of Bob Kelly was psychologistย Mark Everson, director of the Program on Childhood Trauma and Maltreatmentย in UNC Chapel Hill’s department of psychiatry.

Hereโ€™s how Everson responded to a defense expertโ€™s testimony that children are suggestible and should not be repeatedly interviewed: โ€œItโ€™s kind of naรฏve. Itโ€™s the kind of statement you really wouldnโ€™t make if you worked with these kids.โ€

In a Charlotte Observer interview 10 years later, Everson seemed unmoved by the continuing wave of scientific research exposing the fallacy of โ€œChildren donโ€™t lie.โ€ He said he found it hard to believe that every Little Rascals child-witness had been badly interviewed and confused: โ€œThere’s so much smoke there, it’s hard to imagine there’s no fire.โ€

Where there’s smoke there’s fire?

Good lord. I wasnโ€™t surprised to hear such naivete from a juror โ€“ โ€œSomething must have happened,โ€ one told Ofra Bikel — but from a respected UNC faculty member whose opinion influenced whether Bob Kelly would be convicted and imprisoned?

Last week I emailed two questions to Everson at his Chapel Hill office:

โ€“ Have you changed your mind?

โ€“ How much credence do you give researchers such as Ceci and Bruck who have demonstrated the unreliability of child-witnesses?

Iโ€™ve yet to hear back.

But it’s hard to optimistic about a possible reassessment when Everson continues to chooseย Kathleen Coulborn Fallerย as his most frequent coauthor.

Day-care prosecutors ‘become like a torturer’

Aug. 17, 2012

โ€œIโ€™ve wondered how the prosecutors (in ritual-abuse day-care cases) could live with themselves.

โ€œSays Debbie Nathan (coauthor of โ€œSatanโ€™s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Huntโ€): โ€˜There was a time โ€“ and it lasted eight or nine years โ€“ when there was an entire body of expert opinion that these things could happen.โ€™ It was a time, she says, when pseudoscience had raced ahead of science, when best-selling books that had yet to be contradicted asserted that the inability to remember a trauma was the strongest proof of it, when doctors trying to be helpful established as a baseline a model virginal hymen so perfectly smooth and shaped that it allowed any actual hymen to be construed as traumatized.

โ€œ โ€˜Our culture is still really atavistic,โ€™ says Nathan, โ€˜but thereโ€™s an overlay of science on it. Mix the totally primeval stuff with science and youโ€™ve got this mix that canโ€™t be beat.โ€™ Prosecutors, she says, โ€˜are just as naive as anyone else, but they also know how to sway people. They have all the techniques down pat. โ€œSuffer the little children.โ€ โ€œInnocence defiled.โ€ โ€œWorse than murder.โ€ โ€˜

โ€œBut why, as science and truth become clearer, is it so hard for so many prosecutors to recant?โ€ฆย  โ€˜Maybe itโ€™s because the whole process of constructing one of these innocent people as a really demonically evil sexual pervert who sadistically violates lots of kids โ€“ the whole process of constructing this character on a real person is torture. You have to be very invasive. Itโ€™s a very sadistic enterprise. You become like a torturer.โ€™ โ€

โ€“ From โ€œWhy Can’t They Admit They Were Wrong?โ€ by John Conroy
in the Chicago Reader (Aug. 1, 2003)

Predigital advocacy for the Edenton Seven

Author outside Charlotte Convention Center.

Author outside Charlotte Convention Center.

Sept. 5, 2012

Almost 68 years old I am, but until this week I had never hoisted a picket sign. Why now?

Within walking distance of my house, thousands of delegates and reporters are attending the Democratic National Convention. A moment of attention perhaps for

Most of those striding along the sidewalk in front of the Convention Center barely glanced at my carefully stenciled placard, but occasionally someone asked about the case and accepted a card. Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer even gave me a mention onย his blog.

What I have learned: As a media magnet, Iโ€™m no match for a white-bearded guy bearing a six-foot cross (on rollers) and two wooden tablets.

‘Have you ever stopped to consider…?’

July 31, 2013

โ€œHave you ever stopped to consider what the statistical odds must be against the following allegations made by the prosecution? How could the following all be true?

โ€œ1. That seven child abusers would somehow all show up at the Little Rascals Day Care during the same time period.

โ€œ2. That out of these seven alleged abusers not one had any record of any sexual misbehavior in their past.

โ€œ3. That out of all seven of these alleged abusers not one was found to be in possession of any child pornography or other suggestive materials.

โ€œ4. That with multiple-hundreds of alleged abuses claimed to have taken place, not one single piece of โ€˜hardโ€™ evidence was ever found. Nor was there a single adult witness to any behavior even suggestive of abuse.

โ€œ5. That out of all seven of these alleged abusers, not one would be willing to testify against the others in return for easier treatment.โ€

โ€“ From a Feb. 22, 1994, letter sent to prosecutors and the pressย by Jeffrey Keimer of Portola Valley, Calif.

These are questions that occurred to someone following the Little Rascals case from 3,000 miles away. Too bad they seem not to have occurred to so many prosecutors, therapists, parents, reporters and jurors. Up close, was the โ€œritual abuseโ€ narrative simply too mesmerizing?

‘For historians… a taste of what it was like to live in Salem’

June 21, 2013

From blog commenter Mike:

โ€œI’d seen theย โ€˜Frontlineโ€™ episodesย long ago, before I moved to North Carolina. I was surprised to learn, when I recently revisited the case, that this travesty happened in a state I love.

โ€œFor historians who might want to get a taste of what it was like to live in Salem in the late 17th century (or, to invoke a less well-known era,ย Germany of the 15th century), this staggering case would serve them well…. The unrepentant prosecutors, ignorant โ€˜therapistsโ€™ and others who ruined the lives of the defendants must not be allowed to be forgotten.โ€

Mikeโ€™s reference to the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1484 by two German friars to squelch skepticism about the existence of witchcraft, is painfully apt. Just substitute โ€œsatanic ritual abuseโ€ for โ€œwitchcraft,โ€ and โ€“ poof! โ€“ up in smoke go five centuries of the ascent of man.

Junior Chandler victimized by overreaching experts

111017MontgomeryJan. 31, 2012

Expert vouching.

That odd little legalism is the crucial issue in Junior Chandler’sย latest โ€“ and perhaps last โ€“ shot at justice. Durham attorney Mark Montgomery has just filed an appeal on Juniorโ€™s behalf in the N.C. Supreme Court.

In Juniorโ€™s 1987 trial in Buncombe County, the prosecution ran out no fewer than six expert witnesses, including three pediatricians.

Each expert testified that Juniorโ€™s alleged victims had in fact been sexually abused โ€œas they describedโ€ โ€“ but none could cite definitive physical evidence on which they based their validation.

In the years since, higher courts have seen the reversible error of those ways. Expert vouching is now inadmissible in the absence of physical evidence โ€œdiagnostic ofโ€ โ€“ not just โ€œconsistent withโ€ โ€“ sexual abuse.

The case against Junior was weak and weird on all fronts. No credible eyewitnesses or physical evidence. No storyline that made a lick of sense. (Although prosecutor Bill Hart must have liked the kidnapping-and-boat-ride scenario โ€“ he called on it again four years later in the Little Rascals trial.)

Only four children testified against Junior, accounting for less than 2 percent of the 1,407-page trial transcript. Some claimed to have been abused by… Pinocchio. And jurors never heard from those children on Juniorโ€™s bus who denied seeing abuse.

Just how important was expert vouching in imposing Juniorโ€™s two consecutive life sentences?

On all charges supported by expert vouching the jury found him guilty. On all charges not supported by expert vouching it found him not guilty.

Court finds Hart’s ploy ‘grossly improper’

March 16, 2012

โ€œThe appeals court called a maneuver (in Dawn Wilsonโ€™s trial) by the chief special prosecutor, Bill Hart, โ€˜grossly improper.โ€™

โ€œThe judges found that Hart had tried to impugn the reputation of Wilson by placing in the courtroom audience two people whose presence was likely to intimidate Wilson.

โ€œHart never called the pair as witnesses, but… by his actions had implied to Wilson that he intended to use the two people against her in a way that might result in self-incrimination.โ€

โ€“ From the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, May 3, 1995

In 1995 the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned her conviction.ย And then of course the prosecutors rushed to apologize to Dawn Wilson for their disgraceful vilification.